Charity reprieves outdoor activities centre

Injection of new investment means Loaningdale will reopen to schools

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An outdoor education facility that started life as an evacuation centre during the Second World War has been saved from permanent closure thanks to the charity behind a new cooperative town in South Lanarkshire.

Loaningdale, the headquarters of charity Scottish Outdoor Education Centres (SOEC), in Biggar, was closed to customers in April 2012. But the Hometown Foundation charity has announced that it is to reopen the centre.

Although the precise model for Loaningdale has yet to be finalised, the core activity will be education, combined with a range of outdoor work, such as abseiling, canoeing and zip-wire activities, as well as personal, motivational and social development.

Specialist tutors employed by the SOEC - which still owns three outdoor centres that accommodate more than 16,000 young people every year from all over Scotland - will continue to deliver activities.

The reprieve for Loaningdale follows the sale of Castle Toward, one of Scotland's most renowned residential centres for outdoor education and music and art courses, to a holiday firm last year.

Dave Spence, chief executive of SOEC, said it had sold Loaningdale and another centre in Abington in order to improve facilities at three other outdoor learning centres.

"Last year, we invested pound;1 million but we need to invest another three or four," he said. "Our centres are 70 years old and when you look at them, there's a wartime design about them, with separate ablution blocks and sleeping quarters. We want to bring them into the 21st century."

The number of young people visiting the centres had remained fairly steady, but visits from young musicians had been "decimated", he said. Running residentials for music groups and youth orchestras used to bring in some pound;50,000 a year, but this source of revenue had all but dried up, he added.

But the gap they left had been plugged by a rise in business from south of the border, Mr Spence said.

Activities at outdoor centres go beyond most people's expectations of "helmets, harnesses and splashing through white water", Mr Spence added.

"We do a bit of that because these activities motivate young people, but our trained outdoor tutors are able to look at a wide range of different outcomes and draw these out - they recently underwent training with Glasgow's Centre for Confidence and Well-being because we know that self- confidence is something we can really influence," he added.

The Hometown Foundation, which has submitted plans to develop the 3,000- home Owenstown near Lanark, said Loaningdale was an excellent opportunity to "put its cooperative principles and innovative ideas into practice for the good of children and the local community".

Photo credit: Getty

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